June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Spurred on by the growth of project-based learning, experiential learning and service learning, many engineering programs now have engineering students working on projects sponsored by non-technical sponsors. In addition many teams include students from disciplines other than engineering. Mentoring a team of students working with non-technical project sponsors and team mates is much different than mentoring a team of engineering students working on a project with a practicing engineer serving as a sponsor. Non-technical students and sponsors do not understand the engineering design process, engineering analysis and the culture in engineering. Engineering students and faculty may know about the technology available but they may have little understanding of a problem involving other disciplines. In addition these problems may be complex in nature and involve stake holders with conflicting priorities. Finally, the project sponsors and experts with domain specific knowledge may not have the time, ability or motivation to teach engineering students and faculty the basic concepts about their discipline or problem. Communication between project stakeholders is furthered hampered by the different frames of reference, experiences, lack of common disciplinary knowledge and the tacit or unspoken knowledge of all stake holders.
Similarly, engineering students and faculty struggle to understand the cultural norms of the sponsor’s profession and the priorities of the stakeholders. Some sponsors bring potential solutions to the table and can be disappointed when the design team recommends implementing other technologies. These challenges confront faculty sponsors as they try to mentor teams and satisfy all stakeholders. Ideally, the students should have a positive learning experience, the sponsor should value the final output of the project and faculty should not have to spend too much time supervising the project. Effective communication between the stakeholders from different disciplines combined with managing expectations is the best way to improve the chances of success. This paper will step through the design process and describe the best practices for facilitating communication between the sponsor, engineering students and faculty related to each step of the design process. Completed Projects are used as examples to illustrate the difficulties.
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